Today’s special New Year Resolution POP RESCUE, in an attempt to help you to lose those excess kilos, is the 1983 second album Keep In Shape System Volume 2, by fitness instructor and dancer, Arlene Phillips. C’mon, shake it! I mean, just watch the advert!
First up, it’s important to recognise that this album isn’t Arlene Phillips singing or being even the slightest bit musical. That credit belongs with the faceless and mysterious ‘Pagoda‘.
But as the sleeve biography says, ‘Now Arlene is going to give you her super shape, super energy secrets. Start with Kiss today – and soon you’ll be looking great, feeling fit and having fun!‘
Okay, Arlene… here goes…
The album opens with Kiss – Come Back. This forms the ‘warm-up’, and sees Arlene start instructions. “You must work hard, but gently at first” come Arlene’s wise words amongst the introduction to her fitness regime. Pagoda give us some smooth ooh-aah and laa-laa backing vocals as a little flute occasionally flitters by over a light beat and funky guitar. Bend, stretch, bend, stretch, reach higher! Don’t dare let that stomach out. This really does sound like a gentle warm up – from Arlene’s politely encouraging instructions and the gentle sound of the music. Occasionally there’s a breathy whispered ‘Kiss – keep in super shape‘ although that’s bizarrely not what the acronym stands for. Towards the end I couldn’t help mishearing Arlene’s instructions as ‘lift pulled pork up‘.
Having warmed up, it’s time for a more upbeat stretch out to Give Me Some Action. This time, the music sounds like something from a Nile Rodgers b-side for Chic or Sister Sledge. Lift those heels! There’s a male vocalist who almost raps in the background over some brass, and at this point it gets a little bit distracting when you’re trying not to piss-off Arlene (she’s watching that stomach of yours).
Side One closes with the Toning Up for the arms and upper body. Apparently this will tone my bust. The track Get Yourself Together is much faster. Swing open, swing open, open, open! The music here is pretty funky with lots of hand claps. Arlene’s 1-1-3-4, 2-2-3-4, 3-2-3-4, and 4-2-3-4 mathematical instructions get a bit comedy and meaningless, but this track is short and we’re soon ready to progress to the other side.
Side Two opens with the On The Floor track Now That We’re Together. This time, were ‘arching your back like a cat‘ which is fitting considering how my cat was watching me exercise along with this and couldn’t give a stuff. This song is a bit like having a commentary to a fitness video that you can’t see. The music is wonderfully funky, and feels a bit wasted here buried under a fitness routine.
We’re back to some smooth slinky music now for The Workout section Finders Keepers. Arlene remains tireless here ‘tighten those buttock muscles!‘ she barks. No saggy bottoms here. Again the bass is wonderful, and it is joined by plenty of brass and a nice simple beat. If you like a good hip work out, here it is.
Suddenly it sounds like you’re being taken over by some 80s space invaders – as a big loud synth comes in for a fast, pumping cardio exercise for the Aerobercise track. Musically it sounds like something from a bonus Super Mario Bros. level, or from Aqua. ‘Remember to breathe. Breathe!‘ comes Arlene’s helpful reminder – I’ve no idea how i’d made it this far in life without remembering that. If you like mime-skipping to cowbells, then you’re in for a treat.
After that fast paced romp, it’s a little odd to suddenly have this slinky pseudo-French song Suddenly tucked away at the end. Lots of bass and 80s Obligatory Saxophone throughout its short length, and not one word from Arlene.
Amusingly in the sleeve notes it reads: ‘Arlene’s grateful thanks to Kathy Burke for her assistance…‘ which made me laugh. It must be a different Kathy Burke.
Where is Arlene Phillips now?
After the failure of this second album, Arlene didn’t bother our charts again. However, she continued her career as a dance instructor and this enabled her to have a long and successful career with a range of artists.
By the 00’s, Arlene began appearing as an expert on Strictly Come Dancing – a judge and mentor.
Over all, this is no Mad Lizzie Web, but then Arlene already had many years-worth of experience as a choreographer for film, television, stage and music videos. Her instructions are clear (although I’m sure the often mentioned separately available book would elaborate even more).
Pagoda feel a bit wasted beneath this exercise record, and I can only hope that they managed to work on other projects where their skills were more centre stage.
I wonder how easy it was for them to get that final music-only track?!
- POP RESCUE 2016 RATING: 3 / 5, didn’t break a sweat.
- 1983 UK CHART POSITION: #100
- POP RESCUE COST: 99p from an Oxfam store.